6+ month update

sonjanae

New Member
Jul 3, 2019
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It's been a while since I've posted here, but I wanted to check back in with a progress update.
Somehow, I'm both frustrated and elated by my riding progress! Frustrated because the entire equestrian learning process takes sooo long, especially when my mind understands a concept, but my body and skill level just aren't up to par with carrying it out effectively :) It's like as soon as I feel that I become better at something, I learn that I have even further to go and improve than I thought... you can never be completely happy with yourself when it comes to riding if you're always trying to push yourself to perfection haha! But elated because despite frustration being inevitable when you're learning and trying to improve anything, I am incredibly happy with my relative progress!
I began taking lessons last June, and at this point, I am now comfortable both posting and sitting the trot, with and without stirrups, as well as cantering with and without stirrups, and riding all 3 gaits bareback... as well as *controlling* and balancing each gait better... not perfectly and often not 100% correctly, but it is progress. I feel more that I am riding now, rather than just sitting along as a passenger, you know? I have a much greater comprehension of contact and using inside vs outside reins effectively, as well as better control over my legs (though I by no means think I am great at anything... it's just that at this time I am happy with my own personal progress considering I am technically still a new and very beginner rider). I have been told by my instructor as well as other boarders that I have a good natural seat... which is my absolutely favorite compliment!

Things I need to work on: keeping my shoulders back! Keeping my outside hand down, esp when doing circles. Adjusting the reins fluidly lol. Keeping contact consistent, especially through figure 8s and the like. My heels are OK, and I have dropped my stirrups 4 holes since I began riding-- I think I can keep them pretty 'correct', but I have to consciously focus on that more often than not... I'd like them being deep and weighted to be more of an ingrained habit. Not leaning back at the canter; RI said it's better that I lean back than crouch over like most, but that leaning like that is a driving aid and I need to be more centered. I need to keep my elbows softer... interestingly, I didn't have a single lesson through December and only even rode about 3 or 4 times because life was simply too busy between final exams and family visiting, and this (elbows... along with my shoulder) was what my instructor had to get onto me most about at my first lesson back... when before I'd barely ever been critiqued on it. Crazy how fast you can form bad habits when you don't have a knowledgeable eye to correct you!

What I feel has improved: my balance and 'looseness/softness'-- no more bouncing because I don't brace! Core strength for sure-- thank you sitting and stirrup-less trot! Understanding of proper contact. I am very, very happy that multiple people have complimented my seat. Danny has spooked pretty severely a few times and I have stuck him well (according to witnesses LOL... once while Danny was hauling off down the long side of the arena thanks to an unexpected strange man in a startlingly white t-shirt [in Danny's opinion....] walking down the drive, a fellow boarder jovially called out, "GOOD SEAT, GIRL!" :p). My leg has improved (especially since getting tall boots). I am assuming it's still not great, but I'm also going to be bold and assume it may be decent for my experience level considering my instructor hasn't critiqued it much lately... or she's just thinking we'll get to that later haha. Overall, I feel as if I'm gaining a bit of muscle memory and have better control over moving my body parts more independently. That has been one of the biggest things I've tried to work on-- making sure all my parts can work individually so that I can be an effective rider. Though I have to say that at my last lesson my instructor told me to put my outside shoulder back, and as I did Danny broke into canter because I also moved the outside leg back... whoops lol, clearly I have much more to improve upon. But at least he was trying to be a good boy haha!

So, yes, that's that. I'm no expert, but I'd like to think this is decent progress for 6ish months. Would you guys agree? I know every rider has a different timing of progression and that's absolutely fine, but I'm curious to hear about all your milestones as riders, too! How long was it before you began to feel confident in your basic riding skills such as contact, position, and generally riding the gaits correctly? Essentially, when did you move from beginner to intermediate? If you're advanced, how many years do you think it took you to get there, and under what circumstances? Also, do any of you compete? How long after beginning lessons did you begin schooling shows, and in which disciplines? When did you feel comfortable going out on trails? I know there are a lot of factors that go into becoming a good/effective rider, but I'm interested in hearing individual stories.

And now to end, a short story from this past weekend when I schooled bareback because I still glow when I remember it: we have a rider at our barn who is very respected in her dressage work. Well, I was riding bareback, working on sitting the trot correctly and halting from my seat, focusing on that and not really paying attention to the surroundings outside the arena. Danny, my angel boy was moving SO well and being so responsive... I am not a great judge at all, of course, but I'm getting to the point where I can *feel* when he's properly engaged, and he was very soft in the poll as well... giving and dropping his head the way I was asking and I was generally just very, very happy with both of us that day and totally absorbed into getting the most out of the ride. So, I was sitting the trot, came out of a corner and halted, and from the side of the arena I heard this woman say, "That was excellent. You look absolutely wonderful." I looked over to this respected woman nodding approvingly and it was just SO SO validating to receive a random, genuine compliment like that! Made my day, and not going to lie it made me a bit emotional in the moment because it's not often I have a ride that I feel is genuinely good and satisfactory (due to both my own inadequacies and error, and the fact that Dan Man can be very opinionated sometimes... though, I do have to say he has gotten FIT throughout recent months and that is certainly helping him to move better and with more ease). I'm sure I'm nowhere near where I need to be, but that I am improving, and others are recognizing it is such a rewarding feeling! Especially when I've had to grit my teeth through many humiliating riding moments in front of them ;)

Thanks for listening to the rambling of an excited new rider ;)
 
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Kite_Rider

Cantering cabbage!
May 18, 2009
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TO me it sounds as if you're doing extremely well! Congratulations on your advances. And be patient with yourself :)
This ^^, it sounds like you've learned more in six months than I have in many years! Well done and remember, don't look at how far you have to go, look instead how far you've come :)
 
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Jessey

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Dec 20, 2004
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I agree it sounds like you're doing great for so little time. I've been riding over 35 years and I am still learning every day, that is what I love about being around horses, there is always something new to try, a different way of doing something, a new challenge to work out. Perfection is a great goal, but there are many versions of it and the journey should be as rewarding as the goal, so enjoy the ride :)
 

Kite_Rider

Cantering cabbage!
May 18, 2009
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One thing I will say too, while it’s lovely to have praise from your peers, that in itself isn’t important really, it’s all about how you feel, how you think you are progressing and if you think that what you are doing makes you happy. What anyone else thinks or says is irrelevant in the grand scheme. Just enjoy :)
 

Skib

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Dec 21, 2003
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Sounds really good. And true one shouldnt flap one's elbows in canter -but there is a lot here about elbows and shoulders which didnt loom large when i was taught to ride.
You are right that bareback gives you balance and security on the horse - excellent that you have been taught that way.
However, horses dont look at textbook pictures and maybe your next six month you can think about horse human communication? Or maybe you have that already but because it never attracts comment from RIs or other riders, you dont set such store by it.
The hard fact about riding is that when we ride well and things go right, one's skill is almost invisible. People may say the horse is easy. The horse gets the credit.
 
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Huggy

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Nov 11, 2018
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Indeed you are well and truly hooked, aren't you!? This is what I love about riding, and what non riders/non horsey people just don't get. That amazing high from a good ride or lesson, and the fact that til the day you hang up your stirrups, you are learning. I think that's why we get hooked - it's a continual, lifelong challenge. Keep enjoying!
One thing I will say too, while it’s lovely to have praise from your peers, that in itself isn’t important really, it’s all about how you feel, how you think you are progressing and if you think that what you are doing makes you happy. What anyone else thinks or says is irrelevant in the grand scheme. Just enjoy :)
Too right!
 
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sonjanae

New Member
Jul 3, 2019
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It sounds like youve been bitten by the bug. I hope you continue to enjoy your riding.
Thank you! I am loving it :) My horsey best friend who got me the position working in exchange for my lessons in the first place says I'm still in the crazy obsessive phase LOL. It's just so nice to finally be in the saddle after an entire childhood of longingly watching from afar and jumping at every chance to volunteer with horses for nothing in return other than the opportunity to be around them and learn from the ground (which I must say was well worth it to me!).
 
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sonjanae

New Member
Jul 3, 2019
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I agree it sounds like you're doing great for so little time. I've been riding over 35 years and I am still learning every day, that is what I love about being around horses, there is always something new to try, a different way of doing something, a new challenge to work out. Perfection is a great goal, but there are many versions of it and the journey should be as rewarding as the goal, so enjoy the ride :)
Thank you :) & Exactly! I love how you've worded this. There is always more to learn, and no matter how subjectively paced the journey, I feel riding is not about a particular end goal, but more about continual learning, and the enjoyment that process brings!
 
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sonjanae

New Member
Jul 3, 2019
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Sounds really good. And true one shouldnt flap one's elbows in canter -but there is a lot here about elbows and shoulders which didnt loom large when i was taught to ride.
You are right that bareback gives you balance and security on the horse - excellent that you have been taught that way.
However, horses dont look at textbook pictures and maybe your next six month you can think about horse human communication? Or maybe you have that already but because it never attracts comment from RIs or other riders, you dont set such store by it.
The hard fact about riding is that when we ride well and things go right, one's skill is almost invisible. People may say the horse is easy. The horse gets the credit.
Thank you!
I don't think bareback lessons in my area are really a thing, so I'm incredibly lucky to be able to practice on my own time outside of lessons. I credit most of my improvement in seat to ending every schooling ride by unsaddling and cooling down bareback (and not going to lie, sometimes I just ride bareback because I'm lazy and/or short on time ;) ). However, because I've not taken an actual bareback lesson I am worried about forming bad habits without realizing it. Would it be unreasonable to ask my instructor if we could do a bareback lesson just once (or once in a while) to get pointers, even if it's not typically the norm?
I think this a great idea! I started a riding journal at the new year and that's certainly something to add to the list to learn more about, on and off the ground. I'm lucky to be able to spend decent time with my lesson/lease horse (not an actual lease but there's no formal term... RI basically said "come school him and practice any time you want" a few months after I started riding and it has been a great way to learn to think independently and experiment naturally... though I must say Danny is a relative saint). Anyway, I'm always trying to absorb new information and communication should definitely be an area of focus.
& Agreed! I always try to remember that if I'm not activelt putting in effort and it feels easy, I'm doing it wrong ;)
 

Skib

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Dec 21, 2003
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You are sao lucky being able to practise. Few of us have had that channce,
I can reply only about bareback used by our RI. In the UK.
She teaches bareback only to students who want to ride bareback. And the teacher needs their insurance to cover bareback which is why not all schools teach it.

She is a teacher famous for lunge lessons in the style of the Spanish riding school in Vienna. We ride bareback on the lunge and I learned to walk and to trot on both reins (both directions). Most people are slightly crooked and find one direction easier than the other. Once one has learned one doesnt seem to forget. I continued having one bareback lesson a year.

I always wear a body protector. But have never fallen off riding bareback. I was in my 60s when I learned to ride.

One really should learn to sit trot easily (American style) with and without stirrups before trying trot with no saddle. One's legs should hang naturally in the hollow behind the horse's front legs. This is different from the accepted dressage position and this is why some RIs dont like to teach it
The culture where bareback has been expertly ridden is that of native Americans. It is describedbriefly in the book by Gawani Pony Boy: Horse Follow Closely; Native American Horsemanship (Irvine CA: Bow Tie Press, 1998).
The author is very much opposed to the use of bareback pads.
However, to ride bareback the rider should have a bit of plumpness on their bottom and the horse should not be too skinny either. My own RI was very thin and so was he TB so she didnt ride him bareback.

Your choosing to ride with no saddle will have been very good for your balance. It is also good for feeling the movement of the horse. You should be able to feel through your seat which of his hind legs is lifting off the ground. Your seat bone that side will dip slightly. (Think of a four legged table where one leg is removed)
One needs to be able to feel this when riding with a saddle, but it is easier to feel bareback.

It is being able to feel the horse, the contact in ones seat and all down one;s legs that I love. I ride bareback in riding jeans and short boots - not breeches and normal heavier riding clothes.
 

Huggy

Well-Known Member
Nov 11, 2018
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I didn't have bareback lessons, but I took my old boy out just before he retired, and rode him bareback, and in his halter for a while - it just seemed kinder, and all we did was meander around. Hogan, I had no choice, I didn't have a saddle for the first 6 months I had him. We definitely bonded quicker, because of that I think.
 

Huggy

Well-Known Member
Nov 11, 2018
1,442
1,514
113
64
You are sao lucky being able to practise. Few of us have had that channce,
I can reply only about bareback used by our RI. In the UK.
She teaches bareback only to students who want to ride bareback. And the teacher needs their insurance to cover bareback which is why not all schools teach it.

She is a teacher famous for lunge lessons in the style of the Spanish riding school in Vienna. We ride bareback on the lunge and I learned to walk and to trot on both reins (both directions). Most people are slightly crooked and find one direction easier than the other. Once one has learned one doesnt seem to forget. I continued having one bareback lesson a year.

I always wear a body protector. But have never fallen off riding bareback. I was in my 60s when I learned to ride.

One really should learn to sit trot easily (American style) with and without stirrups before trying trot with no saddle. One's legs should hang naturally in the hollow behind the horse's front legs. This is different from the accepted dressage position and this is why some RIs dont like to teach it
The culture where bareback has been expertly ridden is that of native Americans. It is describedbriefly in the book by Gawani Pony Boy: Horse Follow Closely; Native American Horsemanship (Irvine CA: Bow Tie Press, 1998).
The author is very much opposed to the use of bareback pads.
However, to ride bareback the rider should have a bit of plumpness on their bottom and the horse should not be too skinny either. My own RI was very thin and so was he TB so she didnt ride him bareback.

Your choosing to ride with no saddle will have been very good for your balance. It is also good for feeling the movement of the horse. You should be able to feel through your seat which of his hind legs is lifting off the ground. Your seat bone that side will dip slightly. (Think of a four legged table where one leg is removed)
One needs to be able to feel this when riding with a saddle, but it is easier to feel bareback.

It is being able to feel the horse, the contact in ones seat and all down one;s legs that I love. I ride bareback in riding jeans and short boots - not breeches and normal heavier riding clothes.
I love love love that book! I devoured it when my OH got it for me. And the pictures are just beautiful. Sadly, I don't think I'll ever look like him riding bareback :rolleyes: . I lent it to a friend, and got it back spoiled - a few pages stuck together. It seemed like sacrilege to keep it in that state, so went out and bought another copy! I agree too, that it's lovely to ride bareback in lighter clothes. I actually rode Hogan in leggings - total comfort!